Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Loss of the Family Pet

If you are looking for the usual quasi-educational blog, this will be something a little different. Perhaps as a means of self-therapy, I've decided to write about our family pet and her recent passing.

The story begins on a random day during the summer of 1998. My father had in the weeks previous begun to bring up the idea of adding a dog to our family. I was enrolled in law school; my younger sisters were hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Knowing that the responsibility of the family pet would eventually fall onto her, my mother sternly reminded my father that under no circumstances was he to bring a dog home. Fast forward a few days, my mother and sisters left for a day of shopping at the Gilroy Outlets. Prior to her departure, my mother once again reminded my father "You are not to get a dog." What happened next is up for much debate.

From what I've been able to piece together over the years, my father went into his office for the day to catch up on a few medical reports. Somehow, he was detoured to the local animal shelter, ending up in the row of dogs that had been abandoned by their previous owners. According to my father, many of the dogs were barking, snarling, or otherwise overly excited. As he progressed past the cages, he came upon one dog who was sitting quietly in the corner. My father reached out his hand as to signal to the animal. The dog slowly approached and rested her head in his hands. It was all over at that point; we had added a family pet.

My dad later returned home and, I suspect, dreaded my mother's return. My sisters and mother returned soon thereafter and the bedlam began. My sisters and I were racing around the house, in and out of the yard, so incredibly excited to the new family addition. My mother stood silently, glaring at my father. She repeated over and over again, "I gave you one instruction: do not get a dog... and what did you end up doing? The one thing I said not to!" My dad just looked at my sisters and I, saw the smiles on our faces, and surely thought to himself that it was definitely worth it. Looking back, he was right.

We named her Casey.

Casey was an absolutely delightful addition to our family. While we joked about Casey's lack of intelligence at times, I was always impressed by the little moments where she shined. On our walks, she knew the exact route and would often drag me back to the house. Every evening, she knew when it was time to go to the park, often waiting by the back door or finding my father to slightly nudge him with a reminder. At the dog park, we became friends with other pet owners, a subculture in its own right. These were good times.

One thing Casey did not enjoy was being left alone at home for the day. Often, after the family left to dinner or event, we would return to find a single slipper, usually belonging to my mother, in the front entry way. Somehow, when we were gone, Casey found her way into my parents' closet and would retrieve the slipper. She would then carry it down to the front door, leaving us to find it upon our return. Whether this was an attempt from Casey to ingratiate herself into my mother's good graces or perhaps an act of defiance due to being left alone, we never could tell.

As the years progressed, my sisters returned to our home town and took physical custody of Casey. After one of the twins gave birth, Casey moved next door (my younger twin sisters live next door to each other and across the street from our parents) and resided for the last few years of her life with the other twin. Here, Casey began to need an increased level of care. She had to be carried up and down the stairs. She needed a special harness to be led on short walks. She needed special food, updated medical care, and slowly began to lose her hearing and eyesight.

Despite these medical and health concerns, Casey repeatedly received glowing reports from her veterinarian. "She's just getting old," they would say. Thus, with a seemingly clean bill of health, Casey continued to be a part of our lives. She was at every holiday and attended every family dinner. She even moonlighted as a cover model for one of my sister's wedding invitations.

And despite any health concerns, Casey continued to make daily appearances at our father's medical office, spending all day asleep along side my two younger sisters (both of whom work at our father's offices). It was rare for Casey to miss a day, often one of the first to arrive and the last to leave. Patients would often ask to see Casey and would refer to our father as the "dog doctor" even though physical medicine, specifically for humans, was his forte.

Recently, late one Friday night, I received "the call" from my sister. Tomorrow was going to be Casey's last day with us. Her health had taken a serious turn for the worse. She stopped eating. She couldn't move. The veterinarian said it was time. We scheduled family time the following day in the morning with Casey. Videos and pictures were taken with all of our blissfully-unaware-of-the-situation children and Casey. Soon it was time to go. Quick goodbye. Lots of tears.

My sisters later took Casey to the veterinarian to send her on her way. I can't imagine what they or any pet owner goes through in these moments. We still struggle to talk about our loss. Even in typing this blog, my throat swells and words struggle to be typed.

In a delicate administrator-parent conversation in what feels like took place eons ago and in relation to a discipline incident at school, it was shared with me that what their student was going through was the worst thing their family had ever had to endure. Reflecting on the past week of my life, I wonder if they've ever lost a pet... because to me, nothing compares to what we're feeling individually and as a family right now.

I miss you, Casey. We all do.





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